“Houston, we have lift off!” – The Wilson antenna goes up

The first thing I do upon waking is open the door and check the wind.

Good!  Not too bad.  This means I can set up my new Wilson antenna today.  I read Mick’s handwritten instructions one more time.  I can do this! 

“C’mon, Poopies, we’re goin’ to town!”

We zip right over to the True Value Hardware Store.

“I’d like a 10 foot section of one and a half-inch PVC . . . schedule 80, if you have it,” I tell the lady at the register.

“We only have it in schedule 40.”

“How much is it?”

A few seconds at the computer and she replies, “$8.99.”

At that price I buy it. 

If it isn’t satisfactory, I can always replace the pole later with the stronger PVC.

This True Value is the kind of store that has everything you could ever want packed into the smallest store space possible.  I browse around and pick up a squeegie for the PTV’s windshield.  I can’t reach all the way across to wash the windshield.  What I’ve had to do for over a year now, is climb up on the front bumper, get on the hood, and windex the middle section.  Unbecoming behavior for a lady, I’d say.  Not to mention unsafe, what with my poor sense of balance.

I also buy two pieces of brown felt for $.39 each.  The felt is for another project I’ll tell you about on another day, assuming I ever get around to tackling said project.  Otherwise I’ll say nothing and hope no one mentions it.

I slide the 10 feet of PVC through the passenger window.

“Okay, we’re off to the Farmers’ Market.”

Fruits, veggies, flowers, pastries . . .

Fruits, veggies, flowers, pastries . . .

I drive to the center of town and see the market is in full swing in the park.  I have no desire to stop.  I want to get home and set up my new antenna!

The first thing I need to do is attach the bracket to the rear bumper.

Hmm . . .  To the right of the spare tire isn’t good.  It’ll block the water tank’s inlet door.  I check the left side of the spare tire.  Uh-oh.  In order for the pole to clear the spare tire, it’ll be in front of the license plate.  That’s not good either, not that it matters, I guess, but I don’t want it like that.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

I get a screwdriver and move the license plate as far as it will go to the left.  Voila!  There’s just enough room for the pole!

After the bracket is secure, I attach the antenna to the top of the pole.

Following Mick’s instructions, I secure the cable to the pole with ties and insert the bottom of the pole into the bracket.  I turn the big metal knob to hold it in place.

Bridget and Spike can't bear to look so they go under the BLT until I'm done.

Bridget and Spike can’t bear to look so they go under the BLT until I’m done.

Next I feed the coax cable through the window and connect it to my air card.

The signal bars jump from two bars to three bars immediately!

Next is the fun part.  I swivel the pole in small increments, each time checking the difference on my air card.  Before I give you the results, I’ll get a little techie, okay?  I’m happy to do this because it isn’t something I can do often.

First off, the letters dB stand for decibels, but you knew that already.  RSSI stands for Received Signal Strength Indicator, pretty self-explanatory.  The signal range we’re talking about is -30 dB (the best) to -110 dB (the worst).  In other words, the closer to zero, the better.  The RSSI and the number of decibels show up on the little window of my air card.

All set?  Here we go.

The Best Little Trailer goes high-tech!

The Best Little Trailer goes high-tech!

I secure the pole by tightening the big knob.  I run inside and read the air card:  RSSI 55% with -86 dB.  I run out and swivel the pole about fifteen degrees and get -96 dB, another swivel a few degrees further and it reads -98 dB.  Looks like I’m turning in the wrong direction.  We’re going further away from zero, and that’s not good, remember?

I swivel the pole back to the original place and then turn it about ten degrees more.

Now it’s an RSSI of 56% and -85 dB.  Hmm … getting closer!  I turn it some more . . . 63% and -80 dB.  Turning further than that, the numbers do not improve.  (That may be because the antenna doesn’t do as well when pointing over the roof.)  I put it back at an RSSI of 63% and -80 dB.

That’s only 50 dB off from PERFECT SIGNAL out in the desert with big mountains on three sides of us with no towers on them!

I made one mistake when installing the antenna. 

Mick thoughtfully sealed the coaxial cable to the antenna connector.  His written instructions say to wrap a tie around it and the pole.  I didn’t do that. I was too excited.  That’s my excuse.  I’ll put the tie on when I bring the pole down.

By the way, the antenna and pole go into the PTV when we are on the road. 

During a lightning storm, I can slide it under the BLT.  This is what Mick advised.  I tell you, the guy thinks of everything.  He also suggested a cap for the top of the pole.  I’ll get one of those and some paint to cover the writing on the pole.  Gotta’ keep things lookin’ spiffy!  I love how the BLT looks like a little spaceship.  Houston, we have lift-off!

"Okay, crew!  You can come out now."

“Okay, crew! You can come out now.”

This thing is so much fun!

"Sorry to bother you, Spike.  Go back to sleep."

“Sorry to bother you, Spike. I’m just showing people the air card.  Go back to sleep.”

I was afraid this antenna business would turn out to be a hassle, to tell the truth.

It’s easy to install and adjust.

You shoulda’ seen me!  I’m turning the pole and running back into the BLT, checking the numbers, running out again… all the time going, “This is so much fun!”


P.S.  Since writing this blog post, I found out something about the silver bracket with knob that’s attached to the bumper and holds the antenna pole.  Mick MADE that thing!  Take another look at it.  Amazing!


About rvsueandcrew

Fulltime nomad
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117 Responses to “Houston, we have lift off!” – The Wilson antenna goes up

  1. Pennie says:

    Nice write-up – thank you!

    One note: You mentioned painting over the lettering on the (PVC pipe) pole. As another option, that writing usually wipes right off with some solvent (I usually start with denatured alcohol; if that won’t do it you could work your way “up” the solvent scale). Something like Gojo hand cleaner might also work. Or even WD40.

    Thanks for your blog,

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Good to know, Pennie. Thank you! That would be better than paint which would scrape off.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      You know, speaking of painting plastic… Look at the side-view photo of the BLT. See how the stove vent has turned yellow? I hate that. I need to paint it.

      • mickent says:

        Get VHT paint at a auto supply store.

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          Hmm, the paint on the gutter on top of the PTV is chipped off. I need to paint that, too.

        • Bill says:

          Hey Mick- Krylon makes a nice plastic paint. For anyone that cares, using reg paint on plastic melts the surface (nothing structural) but never seems to dry. Sticky for a long time. I painted a jeep once during fly season…the result was ‘flypaper red’!

          Nice call on the Wilson Antenna. It, of course, being a log periodic is almost as directional as a Yagi. I know I’m preaching to the chorir but at 900 mhz (even below), everything is ‘line of sight’! Have a good day Mick! Bill

          • Mick says:

            Hi Bill, I’m thinking the stove vent is metal and the yellowing is due to heat. That antenna is a nice design for that application. The gain is quite flat from 700 to 2700 Mhz and the beam width is 20+ degrees horizontal and 40 degrees vertical. 8 to 10 db gain. The cell phones use frequencies all over the map so a wide band is necessary if you are traveling. Did you see where Sue got +15 db after the install?

            • Bill says:

              Mick- Isn’t 3 decibel gain represent a 2x (doubling of pwr?) So 15db is doubling her signal 5x x2=10x the signal! I have HT with removable ant and set it at 1watt out then to a booster with puts out 40watts (440mhz) on the bird meter dummy load. That would represent a 3db or 15x boost.? ‘s

              Before anybody gets excited, input sensitivty for the RF/USB is in the microvolts, if that!
              I just couldn’t remember if it was 1db or 3db. Anyway it working. I have an all bank pvc antenna (1.8 to50mhz) that was homemade and works well without a grounplane. Nice chat Mick, Bill (CRS!)

      • Rattlesnake Joe says:

        The stove vent comes from the factory as yellow. But it would look nice if you painted it I guess. Mine is yellow and I think if I painted it, in a year I’d have to re-paint it and that sounds like too much work. But if you want to shame me and paint it, go ahead…it might look so nice I would paint mine too.

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          Hi Joe! You sound like me, procrastinating on projects. The vent was pure white when the BLT was brand new. I remember thinking, “I wonder how long it’ll take for that thing to yellow.” The way it looks now puts some years on the BLT. We ladies hate that!

          • Jim says:

            Sue, Rust-Oleum makes a spray paint (in the can) for High heat areas. It is for BBQ grills etc and can withstand temps to 1200 degrees. It is available in white. Look it up on Google. Happy day to ya….

    • Crystal says:

      Pennie, that’s good to know. I made window awning frames from pvc for my T@B and was planning to paint them. I’ll try that first.
      Sue, that looks so dang cute. “Cute” is very important, you know 🙂 When I was in high school I drove an AMC Pacer. Bright yellow with an orange stripe. Remember those? LOL My mom bought this huge CB antenna to attach to the bumper. I didn’t have a CB, and didn’t plan to get one, but she bought it because it was “cute” on that bubble car.

  2. Jack says:

    That farmers market has the brst slicing tomatos you will ever find. Terrific taste, home grown. Arrrrrr I wanna a tomato!

  3. Reine says:

    Glad it’s working and how great a friend Mick is to solve a problem for you. We all appreciate it. Looks like your pole is one piece. It might be easier to manage if you cut it in two and then used a straight connector to “put it back together”. Check with Mick to see how stable that would be but the PVC usually fits down an inch or inch and a half in each side of the connector. Just a thought.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I’ll keep that in mind, Reine. Bob mentioned (under the previous post) something about vibration problems with a two-piece pole. I kind of like the idea of not messing with the integrity of the one-piece of PVC.

    • mickent says:

      I think cutting the pole in half is an option. It depends on how difficult it is to slide in into the PTV. I would not drive far with the antenna installed. The PVC pipe connectors are a tight fit. I think taking them apart would be more of a problem than vibration. You may need a bigger loop in the antenna coax to allow you to slide it under the BLT for storms?

      • rvsueandcrew says:

        It certainly wasn’t a big deal to slide the piece of PVC into the PTV (say that 5 times fast). We’ll see how it goes. I’m going to try to rig us some way to store it in the PTV with the antenna part secured. I think the coax cable is long enough. After all, it’s the antenna that should be under the BLT.

        This thing is so easy to work with, Mick! I love it!

      • cinandjules (NY) says:

        She could use grease/wd40 in the connector/couplers…easy twist in /out. I agree with having two sections of pvc…easier to store/transport. Also…a “t” connector would give her something to grip onto!

        Just my 2 cents.

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          I’m not convinced, not even close. This is light and easy to store. (Remember, I have the very long Perfect Tow Vehicle.) Why mess with it? And I don’t have any trouble gripping anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I may feel otherwise down the road, but not for now.

        • cinandjules (NY) says:

          PVC is cut with a hacksaw….True Value will cut the piece “once” at no charge.

          Of course every “serial killer” has a hacksaw….Forget about your next project? You have so many readers….someone’s bound to remember……and give you a bad time!

  4. Mick (aka mickent) says:

    Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?!?

  5. Jan says:

    Thanks for sharing; I have enjoyed being with you on this and other journeys! Have fun!

  6. mickent says:

    Every 3 db is a doubling (2X) or 1/2 going the other way.

  7. cinandjules (NY) says:

    Unbecoming behavior for a lady! I started laughing…Jules, who is on the other side of the livingroom , says…Is it Sue or Spike? 🙂

    Good job!! Looks great! Whooooeeee better reception! Thx Mick!

    Yes WD40 works wonders…used it on a car once that got spray painted with graffitti. Anything with acetone will take it right off. Ya might have to go back to that little hardware store.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I’ve got my nail polish remover!

      • cinandjules (NY) says:

        You wear nail polish?? heh heh just kidding. Get a rag…it will bleed and you don’t want it to smear/dry and create a mess!

      • Pennie says:

        That ought to work. I didn’t mention acetone, since it’s one of the less wonderful things to handle, but it does work – just a quick on/off – and it is in some nail polish removers (I think some have been made “better” by removing it? I don’t wear nail polish though so not sure.) Sure worth a try since you have it on hand (foot? ;))

  8. cathieok says:

    Love the picture of the BLT all techied up! (is that a word? :)) Good job, lady.

  9. Bob says:

    Good day to you Sue, you may have posted this info but I didn’t see it. Can you tell us what the RSSI and dB were prior to installation of the new antenna?

    Thank you,

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I didn’t think to read those numbers before I installed the new antenna. I unhooked it right now and got a reading of RSSI 0% and 0 dB alternating with an RSSI of 43% and -95 dB. That’s typical of what I’ve experienced here. You have a signal, then it drops right in the middle of what you’re doing. With the antenna it hasn’t dropped yet!

  10. james swan says:

    If you a little alcohol on a rag it should take the writing off the pvc pipe


  11. harrietann12 says:

    It always amazes me how creative and proficient I can get when I really want something. Good job Sue, I knew you had it in you. Increasing the height of the pole might help in some of the more remote camp locations but make sure you consider some sort of a bracing if you go higher, wouldn’t want it to do a Humpty Dumpty on you. Project, did someone say project coming up? Brown felt, hummm……

  12. Mark says:

    Glad the antenna is easy to use. Reminds me of the antenna we use to have out at the farm for the TV. when we would change the channel I would have to go outside and turn the antenna with a pipe wrench while looking at the TV through the window. I never did mind doing it because I was always excited to get that perfect picture on a clear night.
    Salina ks

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I remember those days. My dad had to climb up on the roof with my mother hollering out the window with me relaying the picture quality to my mother. What a team. “It’s fuzzy! Fuzzier! Really bad! That’s better! Nope. Fuzzy again! Good! Better! Great!”

      • jean says:

        I remember those days. Even with the 30 foot pole we could only get two station. Except one night for some reason we could get three.

  13. earthdancerimages says:

    Woooooo hoooooooo!!!! POWER! hahahahaaha! Thanks Mick, our Sue will never be offline again! Glad to hear that it was easy to install! We have been very lucky with our Verizon MiFi. We have 5 bars out here in the middle of nowhere!
    We leave tomotrrow for T or C. Sue… shucks… I guess all of ya’ll really. ought to plan a trip to City of Rocks State Park. in NM. NO ATV’s, lots of boondocking and pet friendly! It has been a relaxing 5 days after our workamping job!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      You’re probably picking up signals serving Las Cruces, is my guess. When you’re out where there are no big cities, the signals aren’t as strong, if any at all. I’m glad you enjoyed your stay at City of Rocks.

  14. patricia Leonhardt says:

    Hi Sue! just wanted to tell you not to get any acetone on windows or clear plastic, it will fog it up! I found that out the hard way once! I don’t know what the BLT windows are made of but just wanted you to know! Your antenna looks great and very high tech!

  15. Llanos says:

    I learn a lot here. Instead of running into the BLT to check your results, why not hook everything up outside, get your signal strength, then put the cord thru the window?

  16. Chuck says:

    Sue, you are a hoot! Your descriptions of things you see or do are a riot! Waiting patiently for the first book !

  17. rvsueandcrew says:

    NOTE TO READERS: I added a post script to today’s blog entry which I think is pretty interesting.

  18. OOOOHHHH Im telln St Mick you opened the box before XMAS!!

  19. geogypsy2u says:

    This is awesome. You are a whiz with getting things done. I’d love to have easy to ready/understand directions. Thanks again Mick.

  20. Jeff says:

    I was going to say the same thing as llanos, but couldn’t you just look through the window and see how the signal is doing while you adjust the antenna? Either way, great description of the Wilson. Thanks Sue!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi Jeff,

      You’re welcome! The print is too small to read through the window. I probably will continue running back and forth. Mick advised me, and I can see how he’s correct, that the tiny plug that goes from the coax to the air card (on an adapter wire) has a very delicate pin that could bend or break off. Mick suggests I tape the wire and not unplug it there, instead unplugging where the adapter wire connects to the coax. If I make a habit of taking the air card outside, I’ll be sure to 1) drop it in the sand or dirt, 2) yank the plug out by accident or 3) get distracted by a sunrise or a hummingbird and forget where I put the air card. I know me.

      Glad you appreciate the description . . .

  21. Gayle says:

    Hey teacher! It’s Mark Twain’s 177th birthday today. He said: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” YOU’D say: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pack up and leave.”

  22. Connie & Mugsy says:

    It is obvious to me that you couldn’t have done this without the canine supervision!! (…but… Thanks Mick – the better to have Sue posting regularly)

  23. Laurie says:

    Hi Sue
    Once again great info on the Wilson Antenna setup. I have been doing some research about putting it up on a pole and thanks to you and Mick I now have a visual aid. I was going to ask if Mick machined and fabricated the bracket, But now I know he did. It’s nice to have a mechanical engineer friend and one that provides us all the gift of more access to your great blog. Thanks Sue and a special shout out to St. Mick.

  24. rvsueandcrew says:

    MESSAGE TO MICK AND ANYONE ELSE INTERESTED: The wind howled all night. I got up like a brand new mama to check my precious antenna by the light of the moon! This morning I was curious to see if the antenna had moved. RSSI is now 68% at -76 dB… I don’t think it moved at all.

    Mick…DQA! DQA! . . . Dumb Question Alert! Does cloud cover or other weather conditions influence the signal?

    • mickent says:

      Electromagnetic propagation, how radio, TV, cell phone signals travel, is a very complicated issue that I don’t claim to understand. It is affected by many things like the weather, sun spot activity, phase of the moon and Werewolf activity.
      The weather is probably the biggest influence but to say how any certain condition will affect a signal is problematic.

  25. Jack says:

    To help with the window cleaning detail or anything else that requires a little more reach, RV stores typically have a foldable A shaped step stool (300 lb. capacity). When opened it becomes an 18″ step stool; sturdy and very practical. I bought mine at a flea market for about $25 and it’s been worth every penny.

  26. John says:

    Thanks to you and Mick for sharing! While you were installing your antenna, I was working on my antenna installation. I chose to use a different setup because I was concerned about the directional antenna. If mine doesn’t perform well enough, I’ll be looking to leverage some of the ideas in your installation. Really sweet job!

  27. libertatemamo says:

    Very very cool…and very techie. By the way there would DEFINITELY be a market for that bracket. We’ve been looking for one to use on our ladder forever. There are a couple on the internet, but they’re all super-pricey.

    • Mick says:

      Hi Nina, You might try searching the amateur radio places also. Nobody seems to make a mount for pipe that can be rotated and locked. The custom one I did for RvSue would be very expensive to duplicate unless you made thousands.

      • Bill says:

        Well Mick, you are now the ‘Antenna Guy’! I’m making casual referrence to the movie ‘Cable Guy’! Sue’s PVC extension is in fact a ‘mast’. Sked 40 or 80 will eventually have some sort of wear at it’s mooring, therefore I would suggest a second support.

        Not too likely since Sue doesn’t want holes in the upper part of the BLT. She might consider a ground mount, similiar to Direct TV dishes. Just a thought. (Use your magic insight to ponder the possibilities)! ‘Weighted tripod, steel tube with locking device so the pointing of the antenna is a ground prop (rocks are cheap)! The mount you devised is still valid but Sue might use another support system when she’s in ‘wind’ country! TTYL, Bill

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          When the PVC pipe wears at the mount, I’ll cut that short section off.

          • Mick says:

            Or you could use aluminum or steel pipe. The antenna has probably 1/3 square foot of surface area but a long lever arm with the current design. I’ll just say “time will tell”.

            • mickent says:

              McMaster-Carr sells carbon fiber tubes of the correct diameter but only 6 feet long; so you hook two together. $320 X 2 = $640 LOL

  28. Bill and Ann says:


  29. jean says:

    New toys are so much fun! I have seen these antennas but I did not know what they were. I am learning all kinds of things here. thanks Mick and all the other bloggers. sue I have never seen comments on any other blog like I see on yours. congratulations. It is so much fun.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Jean!

      Imagine how fantastic it is for me, out on the road, still a relative newbie, and I have this resource — rvsue and her canine crew — where people teach me tons of stuff I need to know. I love it that readers learn ,too.

      Thank you for reminding me of the fun in my blog’s comment section. Lately — full moon maybe? — I’ve had some really mean trolls show up (readers don’t see them all). All the good people who write here, like you do, erase the meanies from my mind!

      • mary ann says:

        So sorry that’s happenIng sue ~ sendIng prayers for peace & strength.

      • jean says:

        I see a lot of myself in what I know of you. trolls show up at my door too. especially in the quite of the night. seems to be an older lady thing. notice I did not Say an “old” lady thing. we are just hitting our prime. love you Rvsue and crew, pray for lots of good things ahead for you.

  30. Bob says:

    Sue, enjoyed all this info. I worked radio and microwave communications in my career and Mick is right on. I started in Korea on mtn tops (Army) and then here in Colorado. Generally once you set up your signal will be good, but weather can change it sometimes. Heavy thunder storms will wipe out a signal, a new snow on the ground can cause “multi-path” (reflection) signal if the terrain is such, as to cause a mirror effect (the snow), which may cause signal “cancel” (2 different paths may cancel itself).This would happen across a fairly flat area. If in a “canyon like” area, you may try the opposite direction and the signal may bounce (reflect) off the opposite wall to a receiver. I’m not sure what all the new “cell” freq.’s are, and that determines what a lot of these problems will do.
    I have experienced all these problems but usually at lower freq (200mhz to 400mhz).The higher (700mhz-900mhz) generally won,t “bounce” around as much (distance) as the lower freq. Sometimes a slight adjustment in angle will eliminate any problems with reflection (includes verticle angle).
    Good luck, Bob

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I never cease to be amazed at the variety of backgrounds of readers of my blog. I read the information you shared with interest. From my experience with the antenna so far, and with the information you shared, and with the expertise and advice of Mick and others, I’m confident this new addition to the BLT will serve us well. Thank you for adding more to my blog and the discussion here.

      • cozygirl says:

        Wow its amazing how many chimed in with so much helpful info! I’m wondering if a baking soda vinegar mix would boil off those markings. And yes, I’d give anything to have an oz. of Micks expertise. If only Spike and Bridget could work out a bark signal for a thumbs up or down 🙂

  31. surfponto says:

    Looks like you are having a great time in Anza Borrego. I like your setup. Simplicity but looks comfortable. 🙂

  32. Don Malpas says:

    You wrote: The RSSI and the number of decibels show up on the little window of my air card. Our cell modem is several years old and shows nothing. May I ask who is your carrier and the model of the modem. Thanks

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I have a Verizon “jetpack” 4G LTE Mifi (That’s what it says on the air card.) It has a menu where you can scroll through to see level of charge, signal strength, notifications from Verizon, devices connected, etc.

      • Don Malpas says:

        We get Verizon service through Millenicom. Maybe you do too?
        Their current 3G/4G plan uses the Verizon footprint and the Novatel
        MiFi 4620LE JetPack. I am betting that is the modem you have.
        Maybe there is some marking on the back that says Novatel and 4620LE?

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